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Archive for July, 2011

Teed Off

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 29, 2011

It’s easy to see how someone might think the expression “teed off” is directly related to golf.  After all, a tee is a small peg with a concave top for holding a golf ball for its initial drive.  And indeed, when someone strikes a golf ball from a tee when starting a hole, it’s said that the golfer is teed off.

However, “teed off” is also a euphemism for making others angry, disgusted or annoyed for any number of reasons. 

In fact, sometimes the euphemistic use of the phrase can be intertwined with the literal sense of the phrase to make for interesting reading such as what was found in a news article published on August 2, 1993 in the Morning Star-News in Wilmington, North Carolina.  The story, from Honolulu, began with:

A golf course dispute between two foursomes over alleged delays on the tees escalated to gun shots.  No one was wounded.

The title of the news story was, of course, “Teed Off Golfers Fire Gunshots.”

The News-Dispatch newspaper of Jeannette, Pennsylvania published a news article on February 26, 1971 from the UPI feed in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.  The article was about famous golfer, Arnold Palmer and was entitled, “Palmer Teed Off After Shooting 3-Over-Par 75.”  The story began with:

Arnold Palmer was in a blue funk.  He was teed off about the golf course and the weather but most of all he was teed off at himself.  Arnie had come here, to the home course of the PGA, to try, at age 41, to add his first PGA Championship to his collection of 56 other professional golf titles.

On October 25, 1956 the Baltimore Sun ran a story on the Queen Mary Ocean Liner and its possible seizure by the U.S. government for having carried 2 1/2 year old Tanya Shwastov to a foreign short.  The story was entitled, “Tanya Poses Liner Threat: Queen Mary Held Possible In Case Of Child” and read in part:

Hennessy explained to the sub-committee that he guessed he was “teed-off — my first reaction was to withhold clearance.”

The St. Petersburg Times edition of March 28, 1953 published a story about Virginia-born Viscountess Lady Astor and Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin.  It touched upon a comment she had made while attending a party given by Senator Robert A. Taft and his wife for the President and Mrs. Eisenhower four days earlier.  One newspaper editor in Wisconsin was so incensed that he suggested Lady Astor be jailed for her comments.  

A few days later, at a luncheon where she spoke before 200 ladies, she vowed she would “never make a joke again” only to break that promise 15 minutes later while cutting the Red Cross Anniversary cake.  The news story was entitled, “Lady Astor Tees Off On McCarthy” and began with:

With a gleam in her eye, Lady Astor described herself as “a dove of peace” yesterday — and then teed off anew on Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, Republican of Wisconsin.

On October 7, 1952 the Calgary Herald newspaper ran a story about Illinois Governor and Democrat Adlai Stevenson, Republican Ike Eisenhower and a give-day, seven-state campaign swing he had just embarked upon.  The story, entitled, “Stevenson Tees Off On Eisenhower” included this paragraph:

The Democratic presidential candidate teed off on Eisenhower, his Republican opponent, as the general moved through the Pacific Northwest engaged in a long-range verbal duel with President Truman over public power.

With comments like that, it’s easy to see that if someone “teed off” on another, the other person would have good reason to be angry or upset with that person.

So somewhere between 1953 and 1956, the expression “teed off” adopted the euphemistic term.  That being said, the literal sense of the phrase is found in a set of rules for golf that was published by the Edinburgh town council in 1744.  According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the phrase “teed off” used in its literal sense was first published in 1665.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bogey Golf

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 28, 2011

Bogey golf is a strange term that is oftentimes misunderstood and refers to the level of proficiency of the player.  If a par 4 hole is completed in 5 swings, the player has scored a bogey. And if a player accomplishes this on every hole, he is playing bogey golf.

Colonel Bogey is a name given in golf to an imaginary player whose score for each hole is settled by the committee of the particular club and is supposed to be the lowest that an average player could do it in.  If you get a bogey, it means you have played the hole in fewer strokes than what is set for that hole.

Officially, Colonel Bogey was recognized by the United States Golf Association in December 1956, and the bogey was given its first official definition, according to a number of news reports.  The Colonel was officially identified as “a quiet, modest and retiring gentleman, uniformly steady but never over-brilliant” … or so reported the Miami News on December 16, 1956 in their news article, “Colonel Bogey Gets Recognized.”

The Eugene Register newspaper carried a news story on June 19, 1991 that was written by journalist Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Hardly Worth An Extra Day.”  The story was about the 91st U.S. Open golf tournament and the trials and tribulations of Scott Simpson compared to golden boy, Payne Stewart‘s ease with the course.  His final paragraph summed it up with:

I yield to no man in my admiration for bogey golf.  But why keep poor Scott Simpson twisting in th wind when you knew he was going to go over the cliff at 16.  Just remember, 16 is not sweet in the Simpson household.  You might not want to sing about cool, clear water, either.

On July 12, 1963 the Deseret News published an article written by journalist Henry W. Thornberry entitled, “New Zealand Southpaw Grabs Title In British Open Playoff.” His focus was on the British Open Playoff being held at Lytham-St. Anne’s in England and two golfers in particular – Bob Charles and Phil Rodgers.

The 25-year-old Rodgers, who trailed by five strokes after the first two of the afternoon round, narrowed that deficit to one by the 25th hole.  But after Charles had matched Rodgers’ long birdie putt on the 26th, the Yank lapsed into bogey golf and rapidly dropped out of contention.

The April 25, 1922 edition of the Evening News from San Jose, California reported on the Indian Pow Wow that was due to take place from May 8 to 14 in Del Monte, California.  The article entitled “Calif. Indians Plan Big Pow Wow” included this interesting bit of information:

Features of the meeting will be a trapshooting tournament, a golf tournament, with side competitors on the links, and a series of field sports.  The program follows:

Monday, May 8 – 100 target preliminary race; blind bogey golf tournament.
Tuesday, May 9 – Start of 300 target trapshooting tournament; qualifying round for four-day golf tournament ….

And the Boston Evening Transcript newspaper edition of October 29, 1895 reported on Varsity sports, covering football, track and field, bowling and golf.  The headline read, “Harvard At Secret Practice” and based on results it would appear that secret practice was definitely a winning factor … at least when it came to golf!

Three players tied for first place in the “bogeygolf tournament of the Country Club, which was played on Saturday.  Not only that, but no less than seven tied for second place.  There were almost forty-five players, and the figuring out of their scores and their relative positions was such a task that the results were not posted until yesterday.

Now in the 19th century, British golfers were said to be “chasing the Bogey Man” when it was obvious they were trying to achieve the perfect score.  It was such a popular term that it became the subject of a very popular 19th century music hall song entitled, “Here Comes The Bogey Man.”  By 1914, a second popular song was spawned entitled, “Colonel Bogey March.”

While golfers love to score a bogey, it’s even more exciting when it’s a double bogey (two strokes over par) or a triple bogey (three strokes over par).  It’s also very important not to confuse the term birdie with bogey as a birdie is the opposite of a bogey.   A birdie indicates on stroke under par rather than over.  And just as with bogeys, a player can lay claim to an eagle (two shots under par), an albatross (three shots under par) or a condor (four strokes under par) which would be a hole-in-one on a par 5 hole.

While Idiomation thoroughly enjoyed tracking down the origins of “bogey golf” no published references to either bogey golf or Colonel Bogey could be found in newspapers before 1895. 

That being said, Idiomation would like to remind readers that the “bogey” referring to golf should not be confused with the “bogey” referring to a frame upon which a railway carriage was placed.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Beat The Odds

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 27, 2011

How many times have you heard someone talk about beating the odds? What they really mean is that they have succeeded in securing the most desirable outcome despite the very little chance that such an outcome could be achieved.  The expression is all about overcoming improbability and although skill may be part of the equation, most often luck is the determining factor.

Oftentimes, gamblers talk about beating the odds.  What they mean is that they hope to manipulate any given situation to the gambler’s advantage in order to achieve success.  Hedging bets, card counting, and more do little more than readjust the probability factors involved in the situation.  In the end, it’s still luck that’s the determining factor.

On May 17, 2011 the Guardian newspaper in England published a story about the Europa League Final.  Few fans held out much hope for Braga with the odds against them as they hoped to win the trophy.  The general opinion was that the team didn’t stand a chance against Porto.  As luck would have it, Braga won and the newspaper headline and sub-headline trumpeted loudly:

How Braga Beat The Odds: Now For History And The Bragging Rights
Few give Braga a chance as they seek their first major European trophy against their illustrious near neighbours Porto

Idiomation came across an initiative of the Center For The Future Of Arizona entitled, “Beat The Odds Institute.”  Started in 2005 as a research study, it was established as an initiative in 2007 that disseminated information, offered training and provided support to schools and school districts in implementing the Beat The Odds principles.

The Lewiston Daily Sun published a news article on June 12, 1978 about Ken Cullers.  The story out of Berkeley, California reported on a man who battled against “prejudice, physical barrier, too much attention and 10,000-to-1 odds against a person blind from birth becoming a physicist” in their story entitled, “Blind Physicist Has Beaten The Odds.”

A combination of brains and computer technology helped Cullers beat the odds.  He’s graduating this month from the University of California at Berkeley with a doctorate in physics.

On September 13, 1957 the Sarasota Journal ran a story about William Patrick Beston, a Morristown, New Jersey resident dad who really had an interesting situation on his hand.  The story was entitled, “Naming 12 Daughters Problem, Dad Says.”

You think you’ve beaten the odds? Shot a hole in one? Drawn a perfect bridge hand or run the four-minute mile?  Then consider the William Patrick Bestons.  Today Beston will go to Memorial Hospital to bring home his wife and their 12th child — and 12th daughter — born Thursday.  Oddsmakers don’t make books on such a rarity, and doctors said only that the chances of having an even dozen children of the same sex are “slimmer than slim.”

On February 7, 1924 the Milwaukee Sentinel ran an advertisement by The Sentinel: Wisconsin’s Leading Financial Medium.  The headline read, “No Mystery About The Road To Independence.”  The copy read in part:

The road to independence is as plain as the National Highway with all its paving and sign posts.  The main thing is starting on the right road and then going ahead.  Many of the world’s greatest fortunes have been founded on the steady and consistent accumulation of capital at a reasonable rate of interest.  Still larger fortunes have been lost in the attempt to beat the odds that exist in speculation.  The clear path of thrift and wise investment is open to all who would follow it to success.

On November 12, 1900 the Daily Mail and Empire newspaper in Toronto, Ontario published a story entitled, “Magic Light Won At Long Odds.”  As with so many news stories about beating the odds, this story also had to do with betting on the outcome of a sports event, this one being horse races in New York at the Aqueduct Track on November 10.  The story began:

The last Saturday’s racing in the metropolitan district was well attended.  The track had dried out, and while not fast was safe and good, and one of the best cards of the season was run off.  The weather was clear and bright.  The sport began with a big upset, Magic Light winning at 50 to 1, while 100 to 1 was quoted in places.  He beat the odds on favourite, Prestidigitator, a neck, Shaw riding a weak finish.

Now we know from the Idiomation entry from Monday of this week, that the 14th century trading game “Hand In Cap” was responsible for the term “odds” in the context of equalization between participants. 

During the 1680s, the game of golf allowed for some players to be granted additional strokes in what was called “assigning the odds.” This was done by the precursor of the modern Handicap Committee Chairman, who was referred to as the “adjustor of the odds.” In this way, the playing field between all golfers was level.

As with any situation where there are adjustments of the odds, betting soon followed.  The tradition of carefully entering bets on which golfers would win their match based on the odds and the adjustment of the odds soon followed. 

Allan Robertson (1815 – 1859), was known as the first great professional golfer.  He earned a significant portion of his income through wagering on his own golf games. The concept of giving strokes allowed Robertson to set up matches with golfers who weren’t at his level which, of course, allowed him the best chances of beating the odds and winning any money wagered.

Long before beating the odds was part of golf, the word “odds” in the wagering sense of the word was used by William Shakespeare in his play “2 Henry IV” written and published in 1597.  In Act 5, Scene 5 takes place in a public place near Westminster Abbey.  The following exchange between The Lord Chief Justice and Lancaster is found:

LANCASTER
The king hath call’d his parliament, my lord.

LORD CHIEF-JUSTICE
He hath.

LANCASTER
I will lay odds that, ere this year expire,
We bear our civil swords and native fire
As far as France: I beard a bird so sing,
Whose music, to my thinking, pleased the king.
Come, will you hence?

Obviously the expression was quite popular in William Shakespeare‘s time as it also appears in his play “Othello” written in 1603, in Act 2, Scene 3 which takes place in a hall in the castle.  Those in the hall along with Iago include Othello, Desdemona, Cassio and Montano.

IAGO
I do not know: friends all but now, even now, 
In quarter, and in terms like bride and groom 
Devesting them for bed; and then, but now– 
As if some planet had unwitted men– 
Swords out, and tilting one at other’s breast, 
In opposition bloody. I cannot speak 
Any beginning to this peevish odds
And would in action glorious I had lost 
Those legs that brought me to a part of it!

While the expression”beat the odds” may not be in either of William Shakespeare‘s plays, it is easy to see that “the odds” was the term used in trying to equalize the playing field for all participants in any given situation.  And where efforts are made to equalize the playing field, there will always be those who try to beat those odds.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Golf Caddie

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 26, 2011

A golf caddy or golf caddie — depending on how you choose to spell the word — can prove invaluable to a golfer.  When Tiger Woods fell out of the Top 20 golfers last week, the first thing he did was to fire the golf caddy who had been with through thick and thin over the past 12 years.

On July 20, 1999 the Independent Times newspaper in England published an article about golfer Jean Van de Velde who destroyed a three-stroke lead on the 18th hole at the Open Championship held at the Carnoustie Golf Club.  He lost and what came next surprised everyone in the golf world.  Van de Velde was of the opinion that his golf caddy was guilty of a gross dereliction of duty and that gross dereliction of duty is what caused Van de Velde to lose the Open Championship.  The article published — with subheading — was entitled:

Golf-Open `99: Caddie not at fault for debacle
Despite criticism of `Christophe’, Jean Van de Velde can have no one to blame but himself.

On July 14, 1922 the New York Times reported on a very strange discovery the day before at the Rolling Road Golf Club in Baltimore, Maryland.  In a story entitled, “Golf Caddie Finds Murdered Woman: Man’s Cap Is A Clue ” the following was reported:

When Robert Hall, a caddie at the Rolling Road Golf Club, chased a ball into some bushes near the tenth hole early this morning he leaped back in horror when, in reaching in the brush for the ball, he touched a body which proved to be that of a murdered woman.  He quickly alarmed early players at the club, who in turn notified the police, and a dozen detectives were soon busy trying to solve the mystery.

In a New York Times article dated September 12, 1897 and entitled, “Women Here and There” the subject of women and acceptable women’s work was addressed by the journalist.  In his article, readers were told of “enthusiastic church workers going into business in a small way to earn money for some good church work.”  However, it soon discussed the inequality of the businesses, and some of the women were accused of “uncharitableness.”  In part it states:

When a woman acts as a golf caddy or makes a celestial kind of punch for which she receives a generous sum from her interested friends, she is not interfering with other women’s work, and she may raise as much money as she likes, to her own and other people’s satisfaction.  But when she announces that she will do shopping at a lower commission than it can be done elsewhere she is doing some hardworking woman who supports herself and perhaps a family in that way, a direct injury, and putting another obstacle in the way of solving the question which has agitated to many people:  “How shall women receive equal pay for equal work with men?”

The word caddie comes from the Gascon Occitan capdèth.  The Cadets de Gascogne became the captains who served in the French army in the 15th century and were comprised of the youngest sons of the aristocratic families of Gascony.   From there, came the word  le cadet which meant ‘the boy’ or the youngest of the family.

The word cadet — pronounced ca-day –was brought to Scotland from France in 1561 when Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots returned from France where she attended school since 1552.  The first golf course outside of Scotland was built by Louis, King of France for Mary for her personal enjoyment since she loved the game of “golf” so dearly. To make sure she was properly chaperoned (and guarded) while she played, Louis hired cadets from the military school to accompany her.  Soon, it became tradition for military cadets to carry the clubs of royalty as they played the game.

The word cadet appears in print in English in 1610 and the word caddie along with the word cadie appear in print in 1634.  

Interestingly enough, the first named golf caddie was Andrew Dickson who caddied for the Duke of York as a boy in 1681 in the Duke’s golf match on Leith Links.  Andrew Dickson grew up to become an Edinburgh clubmaker of some note and so his name is tied to the game of golf for time immemorial.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Handicap

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 25, 2011

If you’ve ever caught even a bit of a golf game on television, you’ll have heard the term handicap bandied about by the commentators. Just because a golfer has a handicap, however, doesn’t mean that he’s disabled in any way.  It means that he’s playing at a disadvantage.

On September 29, 1999 the Daily Mail newspaper in England published a news story written by Ian Wooldridge entitled, “Golf’s Great Handicap.”  It dealt with what the journalist referred to as “unprecedently appalling crowd behaviour” especially towards golfers Colin Montgomerie and Mark James.  The matter of what would happen in two years’ time at the Belfry was of considerable concern to all involved.  An unnamed source, speaking about how the situation should be handled, was quoted in the story as saying:

“Very simple,” uttered a quiet voice. “You merely restrict entry to spectators who can produce a golf club handicap certificate to prove they know something about the etiquette of the game.”

On July 28, 1958 the Edmonton Journal reported on an interesting story about William Wacht, a 60-year-old member of the Pines Ridge Golf Club in Ossining, New York who asked to have his handicap raised to 34 from 29.  The first sentence of the story entitled, “Supreme Court To Compute Golf Handicap” read:

A golfer has asked the new York Supreme Court to compute his handicap.

On May 26, 1922 the New York Times newspaper published an article entitled, “Harding To Play Golf In Newspaper Tourney.”  Warren G. Harding was to represent the Marion Daily Star newspaper in the Washington Newspaper Golf Club Spring tournament.  The 12 newspaper men turning in the lowest gross scores would go on to represent Washington correspondents on June 12th on Long Island and would enjoy a weekend as the guest of New Jersey Senator Frelinghuysen.  The story included information on Mr. Harding’s abilities as a golfer.

The participants will compete for a cup offered by Edward B. McLean, owner of the Washington Post, for the lowest net score.  The President’s handicap, based on recent scores, is 22, which indicates that Mr. Harding’s average for eighteen holes if between 95 and 100.

And on January 23, 1882 the West Coast Times in New Zealand printed a brief announcement in the Advertisements column.  Quite simply it stated:

Dunedin February Races:  Dunedin Cup, Dunedin Jockey Club Handicap, and Dunedin Forbury Handicap. Three Events.

On February 7, 1855 the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle newspaper ran advertisements with regards to a number of items.  One of these had to do with the horse races to be held on Thursday, March 8, 1855 at the Nelson Turf Club.  It included this description of one of the races:

The Forced Handicap of 10 Sovs. h. ft., for the winner of any races except the Port and Selling Stakes, and Consolation Plate; open to any other horse; second horse to save his stake.  Horses to be named at the same time as for the Consolation Plate, and to be handicapped in the same manner.  Once round and a distance.

The term handicap actually comes from an old card game known as “Hand I The Cap.”  In this card  game, players would drop the money they bid on a hand into a cap as the cards were dealt.  When the dealer won the hand, he, of course, won all the money in the cap.  Unfortunately, when a dealer won the hand, the next dealer was at a disadvantage in the game of “Hand I The Cap.” In time, this was shortened to “Hand I Cap.”  Mention of the game “Hand I The Cap” can be found in Samuel Pepys’ Diary under his entry of September 18, 1680 however his is not the first mention of a game by that name. 

Before “Hand I The Cap” was a card game, it was known simply as “hand in cap” and was a trading game with prized possessions and money involved as evidenced by documents dating back to the 14th century.  It required two players and a referee.  For example, if Trader #1 had a cloak to trade and Trader #2 had boots to trade, the referee would examine the items to trade and assign a monetary value to them based on condition, age, usefulness, etc.  Whatever the difference was between the two items had to be tossed into a cap by the trader whose item was of lesser value so that both items would now be of equal value.  The difference was referred to as “the odds.” 

At the referee’s mark, both traders would reach into the cap at exactly the same time and draw their hands out at exactly the same time.  An open hand meant there was agreement to trade; a closed hand was a refusal to trade. 

If the traders both agreed to the trade, each would receive the other’s item.  If the traders both disagreed to the trade, each would retain their item.  Regardless of whether they both accepted or both refused, the referee would get the money in the cap.  In other words, if they accepted, the referee was rewarded for having assigned fair value to both items; if they refused, the referee was compensated for the traders’ stubbornness.

If one trader refused while the other trader accepted, then the trader who accepted the deal would get the money in the cap; the trader who accepted the deal was compensated for the other trader’s stubbornness.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Footloose

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 22, 2011

The simple expression footloose does not address an individual’s marital status.  Yes, married or single, divorced or partnered, an individual can be footloose, meaning that he or she has minimal responsibilities in life and is free to do as he or she pleases.

On September 6, 1999 the Daily News from Middlesboro, Kentucky published a brief article on actor, Kevin Bacon, that touched upon his decision to focus on supporting roles rather than leading man roles.  The end result was a string of memorable parts in movies such as “Apollo 13″ and “JFK” and “A Few Good Men” among others.  The article was aptly entitled:

Bacon Being Footloose With Career Plan

About 20 years before that article, the Montreal Gazette published an article on January 16, 1979 that addressed the stereotype of bachelors versus married couples as it impacted on population trends.  It quoted a 5-year study conducted by Statistics Canada that yielded surprising results.  The newspaper hinted at it in the news story headline:

Couples Move More Often: Footloose Bachelor Is A Myth

And about 30 years before the Montreal Gazette article, the Spokane Daily Chronicle published a story on September 23, 1949 entitled, “Britain’s Economic Stress Seems Hopeless Situation.”  The story read in part:

Despite the measured optimism of Sir Stafford Cripps, the broad measures of the labor government for the workers’ welfare and the solace of official American concern, the intelligent British worker will soon face a number of inescapable facts.  Those facts are so serious that, if he is a fairly young man and reasonably footloose, he should, if he can find a way, migrate to a country where he can find some hope for the future.  For it is hard to see how he can find hope for his future and that of his children in the United Kingdom.

On September 26, 1918 the Montreal Gazette ran a news story about Henry Ford and the American election.  He stated at the Democratic State Convention that he would not be bound by any political party.  He supported then-President Woodrow Wilson’s war measures and made it clear that he hadn’t spent a penny, nor did he intent to spend a penny, to be elected.  The article was entitled:

Ford Is Footloose: Will Not Be Bound To Any Political Party

On June 22, 1883 the Baltimore Sun newspaper reported on the Democratic City Convention which was composed of 180 delegates who had been elected at the late primary.  General George S. Brown won the vote and an Executive Committee was appointed.  The article was entitled, “The City Convention” and read in part:

Two of the prominent leaders are said to have declined to follow that policy. They said that the time had come when some people in politics must consider themselves footloose from such alliances. 

In 1839, American lawyer, minister, educator and humourist, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (1790 – 1870) wrote about leaving his hometown of Augusta, Georgia where he had returned to live a decade earlier upon returning from Greensboro.  In a private letter, he wrote:

The first year of my ministry, the yellow fever made its appearance in Augusta, and my home was soon filled with fugitives from the city, who boarded me out of everything I had to eat, so that I had nothing to sell at the end of the year but my dwelling and land. These I disposed of at their full value. I was now foot-loose for the Methodist itinerancy. While administering to the sick, the dying and the dead for five dreary months, expecting every day to become a victim to the disease. O, how my soul rejoiced as it found me serving God instead of serving clients!

What many people don’t realize is that there is a naval influence to the term footloose that dates back quite a few generations!

The term refers to the mooring lines, called foot lines, on the bottom of the sails of 17th and 18th century ships. When the foot lines were loosened, it allowed the sails to flap freely and came to be known as being footloose

And in documents dating back to the 1680s and 1690s, the term referred to an individual who was free to move his feet and who was “unshackled.”  The expression unshackled meant one who was not tied to politics or banks and who was free to act as a man of honour and principle.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Footloose And Fancy Free

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 21, 2011

When you hear of someone who is footloose and fancy free, it brings to mind someone who can do what he or she wants either because he or she has very few responsibilities requiring his or her attention.  Now in the past, footloose and fancy free have been used separately.  So when did the two become inseparable word buddies?

The Sunday Mercury of Birmingham, England published a news article on April 22, 2001 entitled, “A Dream Delivery For Our Del Boy.”  In the article, it stated:

Asked about why he waited so long for a child, the actor said: “I didn’t actually wait, it was thrust upon me I think.  My life has been in reverse. It wasn’t fame and it wasn’t money, but I always wanted to succeed. Because of that, I needed to be footloose and fancy-free. I needed to go where the work was. As soon as things started to get heavy with a relationship, I would be off, gone. I knew I couldn’t be responsible for a family and the silly work I was doing.”

On March 7, 1959 the Lewiston Daily Sun newspaper ran a story about actress Debbie Reynolds — Carrie Fisher’s mom — and her upcoming endeavours after her divorce from actor Eddie Fisher.  The first paragraph of the story out of New York read:

Debbie Reynolds, footloose and fancy free since her divorce from Eddie Fisher flew off to Spain Friday to make a movie.  She had arrived from Los Angeles earlier.  Asked if there was any  new romance in her life, she replied: “I should say not.”

On May 16, 1936 the Montreal Gazette ran an advertisement in their newspaper, paid for by the American Express Travel Service entitled, “How To Be Footloose And Fancy Free When Traveling.”  It spoke of escorted trips to South America and Alaska.  Around The World 104-day tours with shore excursions could be booked for just a little more than $1,000 inclusive and urged readers to send away for their booklet “It’s Easy To Plan Your Own Tour Of Europe.”

The Providence News ran an interesting news piece on January 26, 1922 entitled, “Buckled Goloshes Mean Girl’s Engaged.”  The story came out of Chicago and stated:

Engagement rings being taboo at Northwestern University, those co-eds who have plighted their troth will now make their status known through the manner in which they wear their goloshes.  Goloshes open or buckled will now tell the story hitherto conveyed by the diamond ring. 

It all came about by one young fiance pleading with his girl to please cover her ankles from public view.  Open goloshes now signify the wearer is footloose and fancy free, but woe betide the young man who attempts to warm up to a girl who wears hers buckled, for it is the unwritten law of the campus at Northwestern that men students never “pirate” another fellow’s sweetheart.

The earliest published version of the expression footloose and fancy free that Idiomation was able to find comes from the Los Angeles Times newspaper edition of August 20, 1907 in an article entitled, “Olden Hunter Of Moonshine.”  The following was written about the former owner of the Planters Hotel in Anaheim, California:

Accompanied by his family, he intends to remain in this vicinity several weeks. He says he is footloose and fancy free and as he sold the Planters Hotel a week or so ago, he feels no need to return immediately to St. Louis.

Because the expression footloose and fancy free was used with ease in the news article of 1907, it can be believed it was a common expression understood by the majority of newspaper subscribers.  To this end, the expression can easily be attributed to the early 1900s.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Rob Peter To Pay Paul

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 20, 2011

Tuesday’s entry at Idiomation stated that making ends meet wasn’t the same as robbing Peter to pay Paul.  That expression means that the solution to a problem creates a new problem that is just as urgent and important to resolve as the original problem.  In other words, in order to solve the first problem, you must take tagged resources from another area, now leaving you with the same problem for the second problem as you were facing with the first problem.

For example, let’s say you have a mortgage payment due in 3 days and a bank loan payment due tomorrow but you don’t have the financial resources to pay both debts due.  If you take money set aside for the mortgage payment and pay the bank loan, this leaves a deficit in the money set aside for the mortgage even though the bank loan has been paid.   You have just robbed Peter to pay Paul.

It’s a phrase that’s found in many languages.  The French know it as “Decouvrir saint Pierre pour couvrir saint Paul.”  The Spanish know it as “Desnudar a uno santo para vestir a otro.”  The German know it as “Dem Peter nehmen und dem Paul geben.”  Yes, this is an expression that has certainly had an impact on a number of cultures around the world that have been touched by Christianity.

Now it’s true that the apostles Peter and Paul share the same Saints’ Day on June 29.  However, before the Reformation, Church taxes had to be paid to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. When there wasn’t enough money to pay both taxes, creative financing was introduced. 

At about the same time, Westminster Abbey was known as the Abbey of St. Peter.  After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the Abbey of St Peter in the west was the focus of political power, while St Paul’s Cathedral in the east was the focus of the City’s commerce and trade.  The two Churches were linked by the Thames which was the main highway of London.

King Henry VIII then designated the Abbey of St. Peter to become a second Cathedral with its own bishop and diocese. Some of the lands belonging to the Abbey of St. Peter were sold off and used to repair St Paul’s Cathedral.  For many who were loyal to the Abbey of St. Peter, this was seen as robbing [St.] Peter to pay [for St] Paul.

Now that may seem to answer the question as to the origin of the phrase, seeing that two churches — St. Paul’s Church and two different St. Peter Churches — use the exact two names found in the phrase.  However, there is proof of the phrase’s existence prior to this time.

The expression was a common expression nearly 200 hundred years prior to the Church incident.  Oxford scholar, priest and theologian John Wyclif — well-known throughout Europe for his opposition to the teaching of the organized Church which he believed to be contrary to the Bible — had this to say in his book “Select English Works” in 1380.

Lord, hou schulde God approve that you robbe Petur and gif is robbere to Poule in ye name of Crist?

While many would like to believe that the phrase is somehow found in the Bible, the fact of the matter is that a similar phrase is found in the Ancient Chinese idiom:

Dismantle the east wall to patch up the west wall.

While this may not refer to either Peter or Paul, the spirit of the phrase is the identical and so while the original expression using the names dates back to at least the 1300s, the original spirit of the expression dates back to Ancient China.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, China, Christian, Idioms from the 14th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Make Ends Meet

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 19, 2011

When you can make both ends meet, it means that you have enough money coming into your household to pay for the expenses being made by your household.  The opposite of this is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

In the Times-Herald Record newspaper of Middletown, New York, a Letter to the Editor written by James F. Leiner of New Windsor was published on July 13, 2010.   His letter addressed two featured news articles in the newspaper on July 10, 2010 about dealing with celebrity basketball player, LeBron James.  The letter stated in part:

There was no other noteworthy news to report?  How about mentioning the shame of paying a guy $96 million to play a game while people in Orange County are struggling to pay their taxes and make ends meet? We face the largest tax increase in the history of our country on Jan. 1, 2011, and that fact fails to make a mention anywhere in your missal.

In Jack London‘s book, “Burning Daylight” published in 1910, the author shares this intriguing exchange between two men dealing with pay-roll.

Two weeks later, with the pay-roll before them, it was:–

“Matthewson, who’s this bookkeeper, Rogers? Your nephew? I thought so. He’s pulling down eighty-five a month.

After — this let him draw thirty-five. The forty can ride with me at interest.”

“Impossible!” Matthewson cried. “He can’t make ends meet on his salary as it is, and he has a wife and two kids–“

Daylight was upon him with a mighty oath.

In 1824, Honoré de Balzac (1799 – 1850) dedicated his book “Bureaucracy” to Comtesse Seraphina San Severino with the respectful homage of sincere and deep admiration.”  In Chapter IV entitled, “Three-Quarter Length Portraits Of Certain Government Officials” the following is found:

Once a month he took Zelie to the theatre, with tickets bestowed by du Bruel or Bixiou; for Bixiou was capable of anything, even of doing a kindness. Monsieur and Madame Minard paid their visits in person on New-Year’s day.  Those who saw them often asked how it was that a woman could keep her husband in good clothes, wear a Leghorn bonnet with flowers, embroidered muslin dresses, silk mantles, prunella boots, handsome fichus, a Chinese parasol, and drive home in a hackney-coach, and yet be virtuous; while Madame Colleville and other “ladies” of her kind could scarcely make ends meet, though they had double Madame Minard’s means.

In 1784,naval surgeon and novelist Tobias Smollett wrote in his book “The Adventures of Roderick Random” thusly:

In the course of our conversation, which was interlarded with scraps of Latin, we understood that this facetious person was a schoolmaster, whose income being small, he was fain to keep a glass of good liquor for the entertainment of passengers by which he made shift to make the two ends of the year meet. “I am this day,” said he, “the happiest old fellow in his majesty’s dominions. My wife, rest her soul, is in heaven. My daughter is to be married next week; but the two chief pleasures of my life are these (pointing to the bottle and a large edition of Horace that lay on the table). I am old, ’tis true–what then? the more reason I should enjoy the small share of life that remains, as my friend Flaccus advises: ‘Tu ne quaesieris (scire nefas) quem mihi, quem tibi finem dii dederint. Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.'”

Thomas Fuller’s book, “The History of the Worthies of England” published in 1661 provides this example of the expression:

Worldly wealth he cared not for, desiring only to make both ends meet; and as for that little that lapped over he gave it to pious uses.

When all is said and done, however, the English phrase is a translation of the French saying “joindre les deux bouts” which became popular at the onset of the Renaissance era from 1450 through to 1600.  It is during this era that ruff collars — high standing pleated collars made of starched linen or lace — also known as millstone collars, came into vogue and were especially favoured in France. 

The more affluent the individual, the larger the ruff collar.  However, those who wore such collars had to preserve them when dining.  If the collars were too large for the wearer to reach around and tie both ends of a large serviette around the neck, this had to be done by servants.  The original expression was that the wearer of the ruff collar “avait du mal à joindre les deux bouts” … “had trouble making both ends [of the serviette] meet.”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier reference to this phrase prior to the Renaissance era.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Close But No Cigar

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 18, 2011

Have you ever given something your best effort only to hear someone tell you, “Close but no cigar?”  It means that you came close to succeeding but in the end, you failed.

In 2010, the sports media appeared to be in love with the expression “close but no cigar.”  Whether it was the Toronto Sun newspaper reporting on the Blue Jays (May 10, 2011 Headline: Jays Close, But No Cigar) or the NHL website reporting on the San Jose Sharks (May 23, 2010 Headline: For Sharks, It’s Close, But No Cigar Again) or the Boston.com website reporting on the Red Sox (June 4, 2010 Headline: Allenson Close, But No Cigar), the expression found itself enjoying a renewed popularity with readers and writers alike.

Some sources claim that the first recorded published version of the expression is found in Sayre and Twist’s publishing of the script of the 1935 film version of Annie Oakley:

Close, Colonel, but no cigar!

That is inaccurate.  On September 5, 1935 — the Annie Oakley movie was released in theatres across the U.S. on November 15, 1935 — the Reading Eagle newspaper a news article entitled, “Promenading In Pennsylvania Sports” reported the following:

A schedule of 14 P.I.A.A. games has just been released.  It was a “close, but no cigar” that deal by which Pretzels Pezzullo, Phillies’ left-hander, was to go to the Hazelton New York-Penn League Mountaineers.  Pretzels reached Hazelton, but had barely said, “howdy” before the Phils ordered him back to bolster their shaky pitching staff.

And the National Geographic published a story in their magazine in Volume 57 published in 1930 that included this passage:

They replied, making smoke at the same time and, as at Empress Augusta Bay, their salvos fell in patterns so tight they could be covered with a blanket, always close but no cigar, though on Claxton’s bridge, though on Craxton’s bridge the officers sloshed around in water two feet deep from the splashes of shells that dropped right alongside.

Cigars were popular carnival prizes for all sorts of games at the fair back in the 1900s.   Remember that smoking cigars was quite acceptable back in the day, when so many homes had smoking parlours and men wore smoking jackets.  Getting back to the carnivals, game barkers would shout out, “close, but no cigar” whenever a game was lost as a way of goading men into displaying their remarkable manly abilities when it came to tossing rings or ringing the bell with a good slam of the sledgehammer and more. 

Men would line up to prove that they had what it took to win the cigar that the previous good man had lost out on.  And the man who had lost would try again, in the hopes that the young lady accompanying him would forget his initial mishap and be impressed by his subsequent success.

There are stories that Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924), President of the United States from 1913 to 1921 often used the phrase, and the phrase can be found in any number of penny novel journals of the era.  Although Idiomation was unable to find any penny novel journals online from which to quote, that the expression was  used by game barkers in the 1900s is evidence enough that the expression “close but no cigar” was an established phrase in the 1910s.

Posted in Advertising, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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